This is a guest post from the UK
One of the reasons that we are lucky to live in the United Kingdom is that we have access to a high standard public healthcare system. Not only are we provided with physical and psychiatric healthcare that is free at the point of use, but the standard of healthcare is high, and we can approach it with confidence. Of course, no system is perfect, and human beings will make mistakes sometimes, so it is inevitable that even with all the preparation and forethought possible, mistakes will still occur. When mistakes do occur, they will range from the minor, mistakes that we might not even notice or ever become aware of, to the deadly serious, the tragic cases where a patient loses their life or is disabled.
Mental health patients, in particular, are often engaged with the health and social services for many years, often for most of their lives, it is, therefore, worth being aware of what to do if and when problems arise. The first thing you need to do is to determine whether the issue you are having is related to healthcare or social care.
Healthcare decisions are decisions taken by individuals whose primary function is to manage your physical or emotional health within a clinical setting. Examples of people in your life who may make healthcare decisions for you include GPs, nurses (including community nurses, mental health nurses, and practice nurses), clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, hospital managers, hospital technicians, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, dentists, opticians, and many more!
There are a number of different aspects of the care that you receive from these people which you are entitled to complain about. Note, however, that making a valid complaint does not necessarily mean that you receive any compensation, or that the other party will have to admit any wrongdoing. Complaints procedures are often complex, and we will go into them in detail further down. Some of the reasons that patients make complaints regarding their healthcare include that the patient feels that they weren’t given all the information they needed about their condition or treatment in order to give their informed consent for any treatments or procedures.
Grounds for a Complaint
Sometimes patients feel that their visiting hours are too restrictive, and they are struggling with maintaining good emotional health. This is a tough situation to prove because sometimes healthcare staff, particularly in the context of a psychiatric patient, feel that limiting their patient’s contact with visitors is for their benefit, even though the patient may feel victimised because of it.
If the patient feels like they have been discriminated against because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or because of their illness or disability, then these are grounds for a complaint.
Patients might object to some or all aspects of their care. This covers everything from the moment that they arrive at the relevant facility (or even in the ambulance on the way over) right up to the process of discharge itself. In addition to complaints about processes and procedures themselves, patients may also feel that the individuals who have handled their case have behaved inappropriately towards them. Again, the definition of inappropriate behaviour can encompass just about anything and sometimes a patient might feel that staff have behaved inappropriately when they have, in fact, behaved according to their best judgement and have acted, as they see it, in the patient’s best interests at all time.
While patients are under the care of others they have a reasonable expectation that they should give their informed consent for any procedure and for any drug that they take. Of course, unless the patient themselves is a doctor, they aren’t going to have the same level of knowledge, and it might seem foolhardy that they are given the right to challenge their health team’s decisions. However, it is up to the healthcare team to explain things to the patient as clearly and simply as they can, so that the patient has all the information they need to decide if they want to agree with a particular treatment option, or if they would prefer to look for alternatives.
Patients are occasionally left for a very long time before they are assessed and offered treatment. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as when a hospital is simply too busy to be able to process patients at the desired speed. However, sometimes the delay is due to a doctor not taking a patients self-reporting of their symptoms seriously enough; other times it is because of clerical and administrative errors. If the delay in receiving treatment or being assessed contributes to a deterioration of a patient’s health, which may constitute harm to the patient, then there are usually grounds for a complaint.
If you feel that any of these apply to you, then you should look into the complaints procedure for the NHS. Every NHS organisation has their own complaints procedure. You should go through this procedure before pursuing other potential options, such as pursuing a claim for medical negligence. There are some medical negligence lawyers who will take your case on a no win no fee medical negligence basis, but this option is best left until you have spoken to the hospital or doctor concerned to get their side of events.
Social Care Decisions
Individuals who are involved in social care include social workers, home care workers, occupational therapists, support workers, and other individuals in the non-profit sector who offer advice regarding social issues, one example is a debt advisor.
Common grounds for complaints about social workers include cases where a patient feels that they were not assessed by a social worker when they should have been or cases where they feel that they were put under undue stress by being assessed when there were insufficient grounds for doing so. The way that they are assessed, and any conclusions that are drawn, may also elicit a complaint from a patient.
As with healthcare workers, patients might complain about social care workers when they feel that either individuals or the institutions they work for have behaved inappropriately, in bad faith, or in a way that amounts to discriminatory behaviour.
Who to Complain to
In cases where the complaint is being made against a healthcare worker, the first port of call should be the institution where the patient was treated. These include hospitals, care homes, clinics, and doctors’ surgeries.
For complaints regarding social care, patients should also first approach the individual and the institution they work for with their complaint, so they can hear the other side’s version of events. If you need to take the matter further, then it will also help to have a record of having approached these people yourself in an effort to resolve things.
It is best to make your complaint as soon as you can. This can be difficult in cases where the patient has been traumatised and finds it difficult to immediately revisit and relive the experience, but usually, there is a time limit of 12 months for making a complaint, so it is best to do it sooner rather than later. This time limit applies from either the time of the event itself or from the time when you became aware of there being a problem in cases where the onset of effects was delayed.
If you encounter problems with the service you receive, in either a healthcare or social care setting, then you are entitled to make a complaint. In the most serious cases, you may be able to seek compensation by bringing a claim for medical negligence.